PARIS ó Rejecting a push by Britain, European governments on Monday decided against providing weapons to Syrian rebel forces, expressing fears that more arms would only lead to more bloodshed in a conflict that already has taken nearly 70,000 lives.
The decision, by European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, illustrates the difficulty that Europe and the United States have had in dealing with the two-year-old Syrian civil war despite their unanimous condemnation of President Bashar al-Assad and his ruthless battle to remain in power.
The Obama administration, while calling on Assad to step down, also has refused repeated rebel appeals for more advanced weaponry, particularly ground-to-air missiles to confront Assadís fighter jets and helicopter gunships. U.S. officials and European leaders have cited fears that the weapons could end up in the hands of Islamist extremists, who form an important and growing segment of rebel military forces.
A report issued Monday in Geneva by the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria said the Islamist fighters include foreigners ó from Libya, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt ó drawn to the Syrian conflict because they view it as a Sunni jihad against Assadís government, which, although secular, is dominated by Alawites, a branch of Shiism.